It was a perfect New York City night in early December. The decorations had just gone up all over the city, and the Christmas carols had not yet become annoying. The chill in the night air felt quaint, carrying the romance of winter without reminding me of the annoyances that February in New York would bring.
We saw Catching Fire at a swanky, old movie theatre on the Upper East Side (I am so Katniss, oh my god). The seats were uncomfortable, and the theatre was in desperate need of renovation. But Liam Hemsworth being publicly disciplined makes all those minor annoyances fade into the background.
Just to be ironic, we ended up at a honky-tonk bar (actually named Honky Tonk Bar): Two gay guys on a date in a dive bar where some country singer I found attractive -- in a daddy kind of way -- crooned over the jukebox about Santa getting the blues (as if). The tree was fake, but the vodka was real.
There weren't many patrons in the establishment. I had ordered for both of us, to make sure she was aware that we were a couple. What's the use of being ironic in a dive country bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan if no one knows about it?
"Are you excited about your ornament?" I asked. It was basically a rhetorical question.
"Uh huh," he replied absently, his voice lacking the enthusiasm I was hoping for. I glanced at him as I tried to create the perfect nacho -- piling guacamole, sour cream and cheese in equal proportions. It seemed he was either uninterested in the topic, or avoiding it altogether, judging by the way he glanced around at the mismatched garlands and multicolored lights blinking out of sync.
"Gosh, how long have we been doing that?" I coaxed, referring to my tradition of presenting a shiny new ornament for the tree every Christmas Eve. It was my strategic move to still have it count as a gift, but also to enjoy it for at least the forty-eight hours before I took down the tree on the morning of the 26th. The tree generally goes up immediately after Thanksgiving; by the day after Christmas it has just become a fire hazard.
"A while," he said, shoving a carelessly loaded corn chip into his mouth.
"It's a tradition now," I pressed. He raised his eyebrows slightly, as if to say: "Yeah, I know." Not in a sweet, grateful way, though, but more to indicate his displeasure with our other tradition of unpacking the ornaments one by one and having me quiz him on the year each was given.
"How long are we gonna do that?" he asked, as he taking a large draw off of his vodka soda.
"I don't know. Every year, I guess," I couldn't help but resent his lack of enthusiasm for my romantic gestures.
"That could be a lot of ornaments," his eyes shone with a mild panic.
"Well," I began with a logical tone, "soon we will have only special ornaments on the tree, and won't need any of those filler ones."
We all know the filler ornaments to which I was referring -- the ones you buy in bulk the first year you are in your own place for Christmas. Many of them get lost or break through the years, but you can't throw any away because there is something deeply wrong with a perfectly good, albeit tacky, Christmas ornament, nestled in a heap of leftover takeout food at the top of the trash can. These ornaments are the last to be put on the tree; they fill in the empty spots, or cover the tiny burnt-out light bulbs or the unsightly mess where the strands connect.
He looked at me, probably imagining a December evening later in our life in which our ornament-unpacking romp down memory lane would take hours. "No, that was the year before," I would correct when he guessed wrong, shaking my head in disappointment and reaching for another memento wrapped carefully in tissue paper.
"All special ornaments?" I think I actually saw him gulp.
"Well, you already have five, almost six ..." I tried to make my eyes twinkle. "How many ornaments do we really need on a tree?"
I did some rough calculations, all based on the assumption that we will be together for life. I, for one, am counting on it, since there probably are few men who could endure me and my annual Christmas ornament quiz. I'm approaching middle age, and hoping to one day enjoy grandchildren (not necessarily meaning I will have them; I just don't enjoy them now), which leaves me with a potential for about forty more Christmases.
I shared this information with him, concluding with: "So at our last Christmas together, our tree will be covered with special ornaments."
He stopped chewing and stared at me. I couldn't quite identify the expression.
I understood the next statement on a deeper level, exactly at the moment that I uttered it:
"So I guess I'm just slowly decorating our last Christmas tree." I'm pretty sure my face reflected his exact expression. We stared at each other for a moment.
"That's morbid," he finally said, picking up his drink.
"I suppose that depends on how you look at it." It was a weak attempt, as if I were trying to pull a perfectly good ornament out of the trash.